Polity & Governance
- Divorce granted by church court can’t override law: Supreme Court
- Centre sets up a negotiation panel on river Mahanadi and its tributaries
- CCI fines 3 electrical firms for bid rigging for Indian Railways tenders
- Government to support Tangaliya weavers in purchasing looms
- Ministry of AYUSH and Advertising Standards Council of India sign MoU
- Bihar supports prohibition with ‘the world’s longest human chain’
- After jallikattu, it is kambala’s turn
- Union Government constitutes committee to set rules for implementation of Disabilities Act, 2016
- Don’t add Hindi dialects in Eighth Schedule: Scholars
- Himachal Pradesh ahead of Kerala despite poor learning levels: ASER
- Union Government clears Tamil Nadu’s Ordinance on Jallikattu
- SC suggests invoking Art 224-A to resolve Tripura HC problem
- Centre shifts disinvestment advice to new department
- CMs Committee on Digital Payments presents interim report to the Prime Minister
- National Action Plan for Children, 2016
- NPCC in Namami Gange Programme
- Prime Minister’s Shram Awards for the year 2015 Announced
- Cabinet approves Indian Institute of Management Bill, 2017
- Govt launches Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana
- Cabinet approves New Scheme for promotion of Rural Housing
- India in red zone on Transparency Corruption Index
- Yettinahole project: activists threaten to go on hunger strike
- CWC Signs MoU with IIT Madras and IIS Bengaluru
- Sports Ministry reconstitutes committee to identify athletes under TOP Scheme
- New vice-chancellor of Nalanda University
- Sparsh Leprosy Awareness campaign launched
- FinMin may aid rail safety fund
- Odisha rejects panel on Mahanadi
- Warning against spurious schemes being floated in the name of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
- Panel headed by Vinod Rai to oversee BCCI’s affairs
- Centre to hold talks to end Manipur crisis
- Meghalaya’s first ever Apparel and Garment Centre
- Task Force to prepare Action Plan for Next three Olympic Games
- FIPB clears 6 FDI proposals worth Rs 1,187 crore
- Cabinet approves the exclusion of States from the investments of National Small Savings Fund
- Draft steel policy to enable Rs.10 lakh crore investments
- K. Singh panel submits report on FRBM Act
- Rubber Soil Information System (RubSIS) for Rubber Growers
- RBI stops investments to ‘non-cooperative countries’
- Centre says GAAR effective April 1, industry demurs
- Indian Railways to rent out hill trains to private players
- India Post gets payments bank licence to start services
Environment & Ecology
- Cabinet approves ratification of the Second Commitment Period of Kyoto Protocol
- Bombay Natural History Society launches climate change programme in Central Himalayas
Bilateral & International Relations
- India participates in JITSIC meeting on ‘Panama Papers’
- Global partnership launched to prevent epidemics with new vaccines
- Curbs on outsourcing may hit U.S. economy: Nasscom
- India rejects attempts by EU, Canada for global investment agreement
- US President Donald Trump moves to pull U.S. out of TPP
- India, UAE sign strategic partnership pact among 14 agreements
- India, France sign pact on maritime information sharing in Indian Ocean Region
- India-UAE strategic oil reserves deal
- Seven new countries join BEPS agreement
- Court stops deportations under Trump travel ban
Science & Technology
- A sunspot with centre twice the size of Earth
- Browned toast and potatoes are potential cancer risk: Scientists
- World’s first stable semi-synthetic organism created
- India begins outdoor caged trials of genetically modified mosquitoes
- GSLV’s cryogenic upper stage tested successfully
- India to launch standby navigation satellite
- New artificial skin created that ‘feels’ temperature changes
- ‘Vampire’ star caught in the act
Key Facts for Prelims
- India Innovation Index coming soon
- Dantan Gramin Mela
- Geo-3 satellite
- Dharamsala declared second capital of Himachal Pradesh
- INS Vikramaditya is first Indian naval ship with ATM on board
- China commissions 31st stealth warship
- Guinness world record by singing the national anthem
- 2017 Combined Commanders Conference
- National Bravery Awards
- Child vulnerability map
- Nepal recognises employment in India as foreign
- Republic Day 2017
- Jeevan Raksha Padak Awards – 2016
- Padma Awards 2017
- National Voter’s Day
- Kirameki-2 satellite
- Bharat Parv
- TROPEX 17
- North East Investors’ Summit
- Film Condition Assessment Project under NFHM
- 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report
- Meghalaya’s first ever Apparel and Garment Centre
- Task Force to prepare Action Plan for Next three Olympic Games
Polity & Governance
Divorce granted by church court can’t override law: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has ruled that Canon law and decrees of divorce given by ecclesiastical tribunals or ‘Church Courts’ cannot veto the statutory law of divorce.
- Ruling in this regard was given on writ petition filed in 2013 seeking a judicial declaration that divorce decrees passed by ecclesiastical tribunals are valid and binding.
- In Molly case (1996), SC had held that implication of the Canon law is confined to either theological or ecclesiastical and has no legal impact on the divorce of marriage between two persons professing Christian religion.
- By referring its own 1996 judgement, the Supreme Court held that binding nature of the Indian Divorce Act, 1869 governs divorce among Christians.
- After Divorce Act, 1860 came into force, dissolution or annulment under Christian personal law cannot have any legal impact as statute has provided a different procedure and a different code for divorce.
- Thus, SC order grants supremacy to parliamentary laws over personal laws of religious groups. It can be held that divorce decrees of religious institutions can’t override law enacted by the state.
Centre sets up a negotiation panel on river Mahanadi and its tributaries
Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has constituted a negotiations committee to assess availability and utilisation of waters of Mahanadi and its tributaries.
What’s the dispute?
- The 850km length of the Mahanadi river is divided almost equally between Chhattisgarh, where it is born, and downstream Odisha. Last year Odisha government opposed barrages that Chhattisgarh has been constructing.
- Odisha government alleges that these barrages are meant to feed industrial projects and will block the flow of water into Odisha whose dependence on the river is greater. Chhattisgarh has denied this allegation pointing out that much of the river in Odisha flows untapped and straight into the sea.
- The committee has been set up with reference to complaint of State of Odisha under section 3 of the ISRWD Act, 1956 regarding utilisation of waters of Mahandi Basin.
About the committee:
- The committee will be chaired by Member (WP&P), Central Water Commission and will have 11 other members.
- 11 other members includes representatives from the States of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, Union Ministries of Agriculture, Environment Forest and Climate Change, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, India Meteorological Department and Central Water Commission.
- The committee will also examine existing water sharing agreements on river Mahanadi and will consider claims of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand regarding availability and utilisation of waters of these rivers.
- The committee has been asked to submit its report within three months.
CCI fines 3 electrical firms for bid rigging for Indian Railways tenders
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) found three electrical firms guilty of anti-competitive agreements for bid rigging of tenders floated by Indian Railways.
What’s the issue?
- The Commission held that the three firms shared the market by way of allocation of tenders of Indian Railways for Brushless DC (BLDC) fans amongst themselves.
- During the investigation, the Commission found that the three companies had exchanged within themselves the rates to be quoted by them in the upcoming tenders.
- CCI held them responsible for the infringement of the provisions of the Competition Act and liable for penalty.
About the Competition Commission of India:
Competition Commission of India is a body of the Government of India responsible for enforcing The Competition Act, 2002 throughout India and to prevent activities that have an adverse effect on competition in India.
- CCI consists of a Chairperson and 6 Members appointed by the Central Government.
- It is the duty of the Commission to:
- Eliminate practices having adverse effect on competition,
- Promote and sustain competition,
- Protect the interests of consumers and
- Ensure freedom of trade in the markets of India.
- The Commission is also required to give opinion on competition issues on a reference received from a statutory authority established under any law and to undertake competition advocacy, create public awareness and impart training on competition issues.
About the Competition Act, 2002:
- The Competition Act, 2002, as amended by the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2007, follows the philosophy of modern competition laws.
- The Act prohibits anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position by enterprises and regulates combinations (acquisition, acquiring of control and M&A), which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India.
Government to support Tangaliya weavers in purchasing looms
Union Government has decided to facilitate Tangaliya weavers in purchase of looms, by providing them an assistance amounting to 90% of the price of looms.
- The government has also announced the formation of a special association of Tangaliya workers, which will work for their interest.
What is Tangaliya?
- Tangaliya is a 700-year-old indigenous weave of Gujarat which employs an exquisite technique of weaving, using raw wool yarn.
- Tangaliya is a dotted woven textile of Surendranagar district, Saurashtra. It is found only in Gujarat.
- It is usually worn as a wraparound skirt by the women of the Bharwad shephered community.
- Tangalia designs are used for preparing Shawl, Dupatta, Dress material and products of Home décor & accessories such as bedsheets, pillow covers etc.
- The patterns formed during weaving process to create design in dots for floral and geometrical motifs by using cotton or woollen yarn.
Ministry of AYUSH and Advertising Standards Council of India sign MoU
In order to curtail malpractices in the advertisement of AYUSH drugs, the Ministry of AYUSH has signed a MoU with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
- Addressing the cases of misleading advertisements with respect to Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy drugs, treatments and related services, ASCI will comprehensively monitor these advertisements across print and electronic media.
- ASCI has been given a self-monitoring mandate by the Ministry of AYUSH to identify potentially misleading advertisement in the AYUSH sector and process complaints through its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC).
- The Ministry of AYUSH will also redirect complaints against misleading advertisements they receive, to the ASCI, which will be reviewed using ASCI’s code and guidelines.
- The MoU also requires ASCI to report to the Ministry of AYUSH, all advertisements in potential violation of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 and Rules thereunder as well as non-compliance of ASCI’s CCC recommendations for the Ministry of AYUSH to take further action.
- There is unbridled marketing of Ayush drugs across media platforms, including print and television channels.
- At present, there is no mechanism in place to penalise companies and individuals selling AYUSH products on the basis of false and unsubstantiated claims.
- The co-regulation between Ministry of AYUSH and ASCI will ensure that consumers have access to safe and effective medicines.
- ASCI encourages the public to complain against advertisements which they consider to be false, misleading, offensive or unfair. All of these complaints are evaluated by an independent Consumer Complaints Council (CCC).
- The Board of Governors of ASCI shall appoint Consumer Complaints Council, the number of members of which is not more than twenty one.
- Out of these 21 members, 12 are from civil society and nine from advertising practitioners.
- The CCC decides upon the complaints within a period of 4 to 6 weeks.
- The Consumer Complaints Council examines and investigates the complaints received from the consumers and the general public, including the members of the Company, regarding any breach of the Code of Conduct and/or advertising ethics and recommend the action to be taken in that regards.
- The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), established in 1985, is committed to the cause of Self-Regulation in Advertising, ensuring the protection of the interests of consumers.
- ASCI was formed with the support of all four sectors connected with Advertising — Advertisers, Advertising Agencies, Media (including Broadcasters and the Press) and others like PR Agencies and Market Research Companies.
- ASCI is not a Government body, nor does it formulate rules for the public or for the relevant industries.
Objectives of ASCI:
ASCI’s goals include monitoring, administering and promoting standards of advertising practices in India with a view to:
- Ensuring truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made through advertising and safeguarding against misleading advertising.
- Ensuring that advertising is not offensive to generally accepted norms and standards of public decency.
- Safeguarding against indiscriminate use of advertising for promotion of products or services which are generally regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals or which are unacceptable to society as a whole.
- Ensuring that advertisements observe fairness in competition and the canons of generally accepted competitive behavior.
Bihar supports prohibition with ‘the world’s longest human chain’
Bihar has claimed to have formed the world’s largest human chain to reaffirm commitment towards liquor ban.
- The chain was billed as a social message against addiction, and specifically in favour of prohibition.
- Over three crore people participated in the chain, stretching 11,400 km in all the 38 districts of the State.
- Bihar government had implemented the new Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016 from October 2. Many people had termed the legal provisions of the new act as stringent and questioned. Some provisions in the new act were seen as impractical and draconian.
- Over 18,000 people have been sent to jail so far for violating prohibition laws since and several lakh litres of liquor have been seized.
About Bihar prohibition and excise act, 2016:
- This is a new and more stringent liquor-ban law with provisions such as arrest of all adults in the family if anyone consumes or stores alcohol.
- It aims to ensure that the ban on sale and consumption of alcohol, including Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL), continues in Bihar.
- Those flouting the ban face up to 10 years in jail, a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh and there is also a provision to confiscate the house or premises where liquor is stored or drunk.
- Though in a rare case, it also prescribes death penalty if people die after consuming hooch.
- Enforcement of the new law, calculated to impose prohibition in a holistic manner, would repeal the previous excise laws in the state.
After jallikattu, it is kambala’s turn
With an Ordinance promulgated to lift the ban on jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, the demand for lifting the ban on kambala — buffalo racing — is gaining momentum in coastal Karnataka.
Karnataka government in November last informed the High Court, during the hearing of a PIL petition filed by PETA, that it had withdrawn the permission given to hold kambala based on the Supreme Court’s order on jallikattu.
What is Kambala?
Kambala is an annual Buffalo Race held traditionally under the auspices of local land lords and households or Patel of village, in coastal Karnataka, India.
- The Kambala season generally starts in November and lasts until March.
- The contest generally takes place between two pairs of buffaloes, each pair raced in wet rice fields, controlled by a whip-lashing farmer.
- The ‘track’ used for Kambala is a paddy field filled with slush and mud.
- The “Kambala Committee” is formed and it usually arranges Kambala in several categories.
- People place massive bets on the buffaloes to win and one can witness more than 20,000 spectators in a well-organised Kambala, egging on and cheering the buffaloes to complete the race.
- In traditional form of Kambala, racing is non-competitive, and buffalo pairs run one by one in paddy fields.
- A ritualistic approach is also there, as some agriculturists race their buffaloes for thanks giving (to god) for protecting their animals from diseases.
- The buffaloes developed for the race are carefully fed and some owners of the buffaloes have even built separate swimming pool for competing buffaloes.
Union Government constitutes committee to set rules for implementation of Disabilities Act, 2016
The Union Government has constituted committee (Working Group) to frame uniform rules for the states to avoid delay in proper implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 across the country.
- The Committee will be headed by Secretary from Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD).
- It will submit its report within three months.
- It will comprise of representatives from the Union Ministry of Health, DoPT, Labour, Legislative Department and representatives from NGOs as members.
- It will also have Principal Secretary/Secretary, Social Welfare Department from Karnataka, Gujarat, Odisha, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
- The Committee is mandated to suggest model draft rules for the states in order to have a uniform rules across the country and also to avoid delay in finalization of rules by any state.
Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016:
The Act was notified in December 2016, after it received assent of President.
- It comprehensively covers a whole spectrum of problems from physical disabilities to mental illness and multiple disabilities under it.
- The number of disabilities listed rises from seven in the 1995 Act through 19 in the 2014 bill to 21 after the amendments, including acid attack and Parkinson’s disease.
- Speech and Language Disability and Specific Learning Disability have been added for the first time. Acid Attack Victims have been included.
- The Bill has also laid down provisions to allow the central government to notify any other condition as a disability.
- Now individuals with at least 40% of a disability are also entitled to benefits such as reservations in education and employment, preference in government schemes and others.
- The bill sets the government a two-year deadline to ensure persons with disability get barrier-free access in all kinds of physical infrastructure and transport systems.
- It recognises the need for reservation for them in promotion and makes special mention of the rights of disabled women and children.
- Disabled persons have the equal right to own and inherit movable and immovable property, as well as control their financial affairs in par with others.
- According to the bill, the District courts may bestow upon two types of guardianship: limited guardian (who has to take joint decisions with mentally ill person) and plenary guardian (who can take decisions on behalf of mentally ill person, without consulting them).
- District level committees will be constituted by the State Governments to address local concerns of PwDs. Details of their constitution and the functions of such committees would be prescribed by the State Governments in the rules.
- Special Courts will be designated in each district to handle cases concerning violation of rights of PwDs.
- Central and state advisory boards on Disability will be constituted Central and State governments respectively. They will advise governments on policies and programmes on disability. The will also review the activities of organisations dealing with disabled persons.
- National and State Fund will be created to provide financial support to the persons with disabilities. The existing National Fund for PwDs and the Trust Fund for Empowerment of PwDs will be subsumed with the National Fund.
- The bill provides for imprisonment ranging from six months to two years, along with a fine ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 5 lakh, for discriminating against differently abled persons.
Don’t add Hindi dialects in Eighth Schedule: Scholars
In the wake of demands to add dialects of Hindi, like Bhojpuri and Rajasthani, in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution as full-fledged Indian languages, a group of Hindi professors have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting that status quo be maintained.
- This development comes months after Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal had announced that Rajasthani will be added to 8th Schedule.
- In December 2016, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also had raised a similar demanded for Bhojpuri.
Arguments put forth by the Hindi scholars:
Eighth schedule means independent identity of a language and Hindi’s prime strength is the large number of its speakers. Recognition of its dialects as separate languages will deprive Hindi of millions of its speakers. Hindi scholars fear that there will be eventually be no Hindi left if its key dialects are recognised as separate languages.
Eighth Schedule of the Constitution:
- They are the lists official languages recognised by the Constitution.
- The Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution contains a list of 22 scheduled languages viz. Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Sindhi (added by 21st Amendment Act, 1967), Konkani, Manipuri, Nepali (added by 71st Amendment Act, 1992), Bodo, Dogri, Maithili, Santal (added by 92nd Amendment 2003).
- The list had originally 14 languages only but subsequently through amendments 8 new languages were added.
Himachal Pradesh ahead of Kerala despite poor learning levels: ASER
According to Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016, students of Himachal Pradesh stand ahead of Kerala and all other states in terms of learning outcomes.
Highlights of the report:
- Enrolment rate of students in the age group 6 to 14 in Himachal Pradesh was 99.8%. It secured first rank in achieving learning outcomes in basic reading and mathematics across the country.
- In language category, outcome of government schools in Himachal Pradesh was 65.3% as compared to the national level of 41.6%.
- In mathematics, outcome of Himachal Pradesh was 47.4% as compared to the national level of 21.1%.
- It was found that government schools the state performed better than private schools in mathematics.
- In learning of English language, Himachal Pradesh ranked fifth in the country with 44% outcome compared to 15.3% achievement at national level.
About the report:
The 2016 ASER was the largest annual household survey of the children in India in the field of education. It focused on status of schooling and basic learning.[Ref: Indian Express]
Union Government clears Tamil Nadu’s Ordinance on Jallikattu
The Union Government has sanctioned Tamil Nadu government’s proposal to promulgate an ordinance to hold Jallikattu, a traditional bull taming sport.
- Now, Tamil Nadu Governor can promulgate ordinance as per Article 213 of the constitution.
Why sanction of Union Government is mandatory?
- It was mandatory for Tamil Nadu government to get a nod from the Centre as subject in this regard was falling in the Concurrent list of the Constitution.
Implications of the move:
- The ordinance will denotify the bull from the list of performing animals.
- This will ensure that provisions of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960 will not apply to the bull.
- It will circumvent Supreme Court imposed ban on Jallikattu in May 2014. The apex court had banned use of bull as performing animals including traditional events like Jallikattu, bullock-cart races.
Article 213 of Constitution:
- It gives legislative power to Governor i.e. state executive.
- Governor can promulgate ordinances when legislative assembly (incase of unicameral legislature) is not in session i.e. recess or both houses of state legislature (incase of bicameral legislature) if there is urgent need to have a law on some urgent public matter.
- The promulgated ordinance has similar effect to a law enacted by the state legislature.
- However, every ordinance must be laid and approved state legislature (or legislative assembly) within 6 weeks from the reassembling. If not placed and approved by both houses of the state legislature (or legislative assembly) after reassembling it lapses or becomes invalid.
SC suggests invoking Art 224-A to resolve Tripura HC problem
Faced with a unique problem of recusal by judges at the Tripura High Court, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to explore the possibility of using an article of the Constitution on appointment of judges of other High Courts as sitting judges to address the issue of recusal.
Art 224-A of the Constitution:
The court has asked the government to consider invoking Article 224-A by which a judge could be appointed.
Article 224-A of Constitution says “the Chief Justice of a High Court for any State may at any time, with the previous consent of the President, request any person who has held the office of a Judge of that Court or of any other High Court to sit and act as a Judge of the High Court for that State.”
What’s the issue?
- The issue came up after Tripura High Court Chief Justice T Vaiphei wrote a letter to Chief Justice of India J S Khehar that due to shortage of judges, it became difficult to set up a separate bench if a judge recused himself from hearing a particular case on grounds of conflict of interest.
- The Tripura High Court at Agartala, which was established on March 23, 2013, has a sanctioned strength of four judges including the Chief Justice, and currently there are three serving judges. There are at least 26 cases in which recusal has been sought by the judges there.
Centre shifts disinvestment advice to new department
The Union Government has transferred the advising role of Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) on utilisation of the proceeds from disinvestment to the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA).
- The DEA in the Union Finance Ministry will now be in charge of financial policy in regard to the utilisation of proceeds of disinvestment channelised into the National Investment Fund (NIF).
- This announcement comes after the Union Cabinet approved an alternative mechanism to decide the modalities to do with stake sales in PSUs, so as to speed up the process and to streamline the disinvestment process.
- The National Investment Fund was created in 2005 in which the proceeds from the disinvestment of Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) were to be channelised.
- During his Budget speech 2016-17, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced renaming the previously known Department of Investment as DIPAM.
- Earlier the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) had given its approval to Alternative Mechanism to decide the modalities to do with stake sales in PSUs.
- Under this mechanism, the quantum of disinvestment in a particular Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSE) will be decided on a case-by-case basis subject to Government retaining 51% equity and management control.
CMs Committee on Digital Payments presents interim report to the Prime Minister
The CMs Committee on Digital Payments led by the convener and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Shri Chandra Babu Naidu has submitted the interim report on Digital Payments to the Prime Minister.
Important recommendations made by the committee:
- The panel has recommended a ban on cash transactions beyond a threshold and a tax on payments beyond Rs 50,000.
- It has recommended a subsidy of up to Rs 1,000 for smartphones purchased by those who do not pay income tax as well as small merchants in addition to lowering or doing away with the merchant discount rate or the fee paid on card and online transactions.
- The committee also said there was a need to strengthen security , expand infrastructure and increase awareness for greater adoption of digital payments.
- The panel has also proposed tax sops for domestic production of micro ATMs and biometric sensors, along with a subsidy of 50% to merchant points using Aadhaar Pay , which will use fingerprint or iris scan.
- The panel has also suggested that all 1.5 lakh post offices should have infrastructure to deal with Aadhaar-enabled micro ATMs and there should be inter-operability for banking correspondent via Aadhaar-enabled payment system.
- Some proposals related to disincentivising cash may find traction as the Supreme Court-appointed SIT on black money, too, had suggested a cap on cash transactions as well as a limit on how much an entity could hold in physical form.
- Although the proposal to levy a cash transaction tax has found support, a section within the government is not in favour of this as it believes incentives will yield better results.
National Action Plan for Children, 2016
National Action Plan for Children, 2016 (NPAC) was recently launched at a special function held to celebrate the National Girl Child Day in Delhi. The NPAC has been developed by the Ministry of Women & Child Development.
Features of the NPAC, 2016:
- The Action Plan has four key priority areas; survival, health and nutrition; education and development; protection and participation.
- The NPAC defines objectives, sub-objectives, strategies, action points and indicators for measuring progress under the four key priority areas and also identifies key stakeholders for the implementation of different strategies.
- The plan also puts focus on new and emerging concerns for children such as online child abuse, children affected by natural and man-made disasters and climate change, etc.
- The strategies and action points largely draw upon the existing programmes and schemes of various Ministries/Departments. However, for new and emerging issues related to children; it also suggests formulation of new programmes and strategies, as required.
- The plan takes into account the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and provides a roadmap towards achieving them though co-ordination and convergence with different stakeholders.
- The National Action Plan for Children (NPAC), 2016 was prepared as per the mandate of the National Policy for Children (2013).
- The policy provides for formation of a National Co-ordination and Action Group (NCAG) under the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for coordinating and implementation of the plan and monitor the progress with other Ministries concerned as its members.
NPCC in Namami Gange Programme
Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Shri Uma Bharti has called for active involvement of NPCC, a premier construction company, into Namami Gange programme.
- Complimenting NPCC, the Minister said that NPCC successfully carried out projects in such far flung areas where no one dares to enter.
- NPCC was established on January 09, 1957 to create necessary infrastructure for economic development of the country in the core sectors of irrigation and water resources, power and heavy industries under Ministry Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
- NPCC comply with quality management requirements of ISO 9001-2008 for execution of civil works for Thermal & Hydro Electric Projects’, River valley projects, Industrial structures, Project Management consultancy services for buildings, Housings, Roads, Bridges and Infrastructure projects.
Prime Minister’s Shram Awards for the year 2015 Announced
The Government has announced the Prime Minister’s Shram Awards for the year 2015.
- The awards have been awarded to 56 workers employed in the Departmental Undertakings & Public Sector Undertakings of the Central and State Governments and Private Sector Units employing 500 or more workers.
- The awards are given in recognition of their distinguished performances, innovative abilities, outstanding contribution in the field of productivity and exhibition of exceptional courage and presence of mind.
About Shram Awards:
- The Prime Minister’s Shram Awards were instituted in 1985 by the Government of India.
- This national award is conferred on workers for outstanding contributions that improve productivity, innovation, and indigenization, resulting in saving foreign exchange.
- The award is also given for long-term exceptional dedicated work.
- The objective of the Prime Ministers Shram Awards is to recognize the outstanding contributions made by workmen as defined in the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 in organizations both in public and private sector and who have distinguished record of performance, devotion to duty of a high order, specific contribution in the field of productivity and proven innovative abilities among others.
They are four types of awards:
- Shram Ratna: Rs. Two lakhs and recognition of their contribution to their field (a Sanad).
- Shram Bhushan: RS. 100000 and a Sanad.
- Shram Vir / Shram Veerangana: RS. 60000 and a Sanad.
- Shram Devi / Shram Shree: RS. 40000 and a Sanad.
Cabinet approves Indian Institute of Management Bill, 2017
The Union Cabinet has approved the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bill, 2017.
- Under the bill, IIMs will be declared as Institutions of National Importance.
- It will also enable IIMs to grant degrees rather than diplomas to their students.
- At present IIMs are not authorised to award degrees as they registered as societies. Hence, they are awarding Post Graduate Diploma and Fellow Programme in Management.
Salient features of the Bill:
- IIMs can grant degrees to their students.
- The Bill provides for complete autonomy to the Institutions, combined with adequate accountability.
- Management of these Institutions would be Board driven, with the Chairperson and Director of an Institution which will be selected by the Board.
- A greater participation of experts and alumni in the Board is amongst other important features of the Bill.
- Provision has also been made for inclusion of women and members from Scheduled Castes/Tribes in the Board.
- The Bill also provides for periodic review of the performance of Institutions by independent agencies, and placing the results of the same on public domain.
- The Annual Report of the Institutions will be placed in the Parliament and CAG will be auditing their accounts.
- There is also a provision of Coordination Forum of IIMs as an advisory body.
- Indian Institutes of Managements (IIMs) are the country’s premier institutions imparting best quality education in management and are recognized as world-class management Institutions and Centres of Excellence.
- All IIMs are separate autonomous bodies registered under the Societies Act and are not authorized to award degrees.
- These awards are treated as equivalent to MBAs and Ph.D, respectively, but their equivalence is not universally acceptable, especially for the Fellow Programme.
Govt launches Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for launching of Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana 2017 (VPBY 2017).
Key features of Scheme:
- The scheme will be launched as part of Government’s commitment for financial inclusion and social security.
- The scheme will be implemented through Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) during the current financial year i.e. FY 2016-17.
- It will be open for subscription for a period of one year from the date of launch.
- The purpose of the scheme is to provide social security during old age and protect elderly persons aged 60 years and above against future fall in their interest income due to uncertain market conditions.
- It will provide an assured pension based on a guaranteed rate of return of 8% per annum for ten years, with an option to opt for pension on a monthly, quarterly, half yearly and annual basis.
- The Union Government will bear the differential return i.e., the difference between the return generated by LIC and the assured return of 8% per annum as subsidy on an annual basis.
Cabinet approves New Scheme for promotion of Rural Housing
The Union Cabinet has approved a new scheme for promotion of Rural Housing in the country.
- Under it, Government will provide interest subsidy to every rural household who is not covered under the Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana (Grameen)-PMAY(G).
- It will enable people in rural areas to construct new houses or add to their existing pucca houses to improve dwelling units.
Features of Scheme:
- It will be implemented by National Housing Bank (NHB). Under the scheme, the beneficiary will be provided interest subsidy for loan amount upto Rs. 2 Lakhs for taking loan.
- Government will provide net present value of interest subsidy of 3% to NHB upfront which will, in turn, pass it to the Primary Lending Institutions (Scheduled Commercial Banks, NBFCs etc.).
- Government will also take necessary steps for proper convergence of the scheme with PMAY-G including technical support to beneficiary through existing arrangements.
- It will improve housing stock in the rural areas, as well as create employment opportunities in rural housing sector.
India in red zone on Transparency Corruption Index
India has been ranked 79th out of 176 countries in the recently released Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for the year 2016 by the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).
About the index:
- The index has been prepared by the Transparency International, the Berlin-based anti-graft organisation.
- Transparency International has used World Bank data, the World Economic Forum and other institutions to rank 176 countries by perceived levels of corruption in public sector.
- The score runs from zero, which is highly corrupt, to 100, which is very clean.
Highlights of the index:
- Latest rankings put New Zealand and Denmark in joint first place with a score of 90, followed by Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Singapore, Netherlands and Canada.
- At the bottom of the index, Somalia was ranked the most corrupt country.
- South Asia has performed poorly. Bangladesh at 27th and Nepal at 29th positions were slotted in the highly corrupt section.
- Pakistan, at 32, also came in the red zone. Afghanistan ranked 15th was in the “highly corrupt” list with South Sudan, North Korea and Libya.
- The index has placed India on the watch list for its inability to curb mega corruption scandals and petty bribery.
- The index has placed India with Brazil and China in the 40th position. The index notes that India’s condition showed growth with inequality.
- India’s score has improved by two points from 38 in 2015.
- As per the report, the impact of corruption on poverty, illiteracy and policy brutality showed that not only was the economy growing but so was inequality.
Yettinahole project: activists threaten to go on hunger strike
Activists opposing the Yettinahole diversion project in Karnataka have threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike from February 11 if the State government did not take a decision to stop the project during the upcoming legislature session.
About Yettinahole project:
- The Yettinahole project envisages to pump about 24 tmc ft of water from Yettinahole, a tributary of River Netravathi.
- It involves construction of dams and reservoir, pumping of water, flowing of water with gravitational force and finally filling of lakes.
- As per the project, 24 tmc ft of water from Yettinahole and a couple of other tributaries of Netravathi River will be drawn by constructing minor dams.
- The project envisages diverting the water to drought prone Chikkaballapur, Kolur, Tumkur and Bangalore rural districts.
Why it is opposed?
The Yettinahole Project has come in for very strong opposition from environmental groups, who argue that the diversion of river basins from their natural course of opposite direction is fundamentally unscientific and would greatly disturb the very pattern of landscape ecology.
This will result in problems like uneven percolation pattern, seepage problems, opening up of ground water sources in higher altitudes etc.[Ref: The Hindu]
CWC Signs MoU with IIT Madras and IIS Bengaluru
Central Water Commission (CWC) under the Ministry of Water Resources River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has signed two separate MoUs with IIT Madras and IIS Bengaluru.
- This will help them for the procurement of specified equipment and software for enhancing their capability to support dam rehabilitation efforts of CWC.
- The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has taken on board selected premier academic and research institutes, for capacity building in the areas of dam safety through World Bank assisted Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP).
- The scope includes strengthening the testing laboratories, enhancing analytical capabilities, exposure visits to best global institutions and on ground exposure to dam safety concerns to the faculty of these institutions.
The Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), Government of India, with assistance from the World Bank, is implementing the DAM REHABILITATION AND IMPROVEMENT PROJECT (DRIP).
- It would be a six-year project.
- The project originally envisaged the rehabilitation and improvement of about 223 dams within four states namely, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu and later Karnataka, Uttarakhand (UNVNL) and Jharkhand (DVC) joined DRIP and total number of dams covered under DRIP increased to 250.
- The project will also promote new technologies and improve Institutional capacities for dam safety evaluation and implementation at the Central and State levels and in some identified premier academic and research institutes of the country.
- The Central Dam Safety Organisation of Central Water Commission, assisted by a Consulting firm, is coordinating and supervising the Project implementation.
The project development objectives of DRIP are:
- To improve the safety and performance of selected existing dams and associated appurtenances in a sustainable manner, and
- To strengthen the dam safety institutional setup in participating states as well as at central level.
Sports Ministry reconstitutes committee to identify athletes under TOP Scheme
The Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has reconstituted TOP committee with objective of identifying and supporting potential medal prospects for 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games under Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme.
- The committee will be headed by Abhinav Bindra, Olympic Gold Medalist.
- The committee will select elite athletes to provided financial assistance for their customized training at Institutes having world class facilities and other necessary support.
- It will decide on its own procedures and will be competent to invite subject experts as and when required.
- It will have initial tenure of one year.
What is the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme?
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (Department of Sports) have formulated ‘NSDF Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme’ in the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) with the objective of identifying and supporting potential medal prospects for 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
- Focused disciplines will be Athletics, Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Wrestling and Shooting.
- Under the scheme, the selected athletes will be provided financial assistance for their customized training at Institutes having world class facilities and other necessary support.
- Benchmark for selection of athletes under the scheme will be in relation to international standards.
- There will be annual/semi-annual review of performance of selected athletes.
New vice-chancellor of Nalanda University
President Pranab Mukherjee has appointed Dr Vijay Bhatkar, architect of India’s first supercomputer the Param series, as the chancellor of Nalanda University.
About Nalanda University:
- Nalanda University revived version of ancient Nalanda University located at Rajgir in Nalanda District in Bihar.
- It is a non-state, non-profit, secular and self-governing international institution. Its idea was mooted by former President APJ Andul Kalam in 2006.
- It was established through Nalanda University Act, 2010. It functions under Ministry of External Affairs.
- It is mandated to be engaged in the pursuit of intellectual, philosophical, historical and spiritual studies
- The ancient Nalanda University was established in 427 AD during the reign of Gupta king Sakraditya. It was one of India’s earliest university.
- At its peak, it had attracted scholars and students from near and far with some travelling all the way from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia.
Sparsh Leprosy Awareness campaign launched
On the occasion of Anti-Leprosy Day (observed on the last Sunday of January), the Union Government has launched nationwide “Sparsh Leprosy Awareness Campaign (SLAC)”.
About the Campaign:
- The thrust of SLAC campaign is to promote community participation in diagnosis and treatment of leprosy in its early stages and to spread awareness about the disease to help in early diagnosis and treatment.
- It seeks to promote decentralised community-based demand-driven approach from present centralised top-down delivery-driven approach to fight the disease.
- It also seeks to empower local communities to take over the responsibility of sensitising people to not stigmatise and discriminate against those affected.
Why this Campaign is needed?
- Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae and it usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves.
- The mode of transmission of leprosy is still not known.
- According to WHO, the diseased had affected 2,12,000 people globally in 2015.
- India alone reported 1,27,326 new cases, accounting for 60% of new cases globally.
- India is among the 22 countries considered as having a “high burden for leprosy” along with high transmission.
- The other high-burden countries were Brazil and Indonesia.
About Anti-Leprosy Day:
Anti-Leprosy Day is observed every year on January 30 in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi who attained martyrdom on this day in 1948, to remember his selfless efforts and care for the people affected with Leprosy.[Ref: Indian Express]
FinMin may aid rail safety fund
The Finance Ministry has agreed to contribute partially to a new dedicated railway safety fund in the upcoming Budget to be presented on February 1.
- Recently, the Railway Ministry requested the Finance Ministry to create a non-lapsable safety fund named ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’.
- The Railways had asked the Finance Ministry to sponsor almost 93% of the fund. However, the Finance Ministry agreed to contribute only 25% and asked it to raise the rest.
About the fund:
- The Railways had asked for ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’ to be set up based on the recommendations of a high-level safety review committee under former chairman Atomic Energy Commission Dr. Anil Kakodkar.
Utilization of the fund:
- The fund is proposed to be utilised for track improvement, bridge rehabilitation, rolling stock replacement, human resource development, improved inspection system, and safety work at level crossing, among other things.
Odisha rejects panel on Mahanadi
The Odisha government has rejected the Centre’s negotiation committee on Mahanadi river water dispute with Chhattisgarh.
- According to the Odisha government, the committee is not in accordance with the provisions of Sec 4(1) of the Inter-State Rover Water Dispute Act of 1956 and its composition is arbitrary.
In January 2017, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation constituted a negotiations committee to assess availability and utilisation of waters of Mahanadi and its tributaries. The committee was set up with reference to complaint of State of Odisha under section 3 of the ISRWD Act, 1956 regarding utilisation of waters of Mahandi Basin.
What’s the dispute?
- The 850km length of the Mahanadi river is divided almost equally between Chhattisgarh, where it is born, and downstream Odisha.
- Last year Odisha government opposed barrages that Chhattisgarh has been constructing.
- Odisha government alleges that these barrages are meant to feed industrial projects and will block the flow of water into Odisha whose dependence on the river is greater.
- Chhattisgarh has denied this allegation pointing out that much of the river in Odisha flows untapped and straight into the sea.
What the law says?
- The provisions of the ISRWD Act of 1965 put responsibility on the central government to negotiate after receiving complaints and in this regard the principle of federal relations mandated that the constitutional functionaries namely the prime minister or Union minister for water resources conduct negotiations with the chief ministers of the riparian states rather than appointing a committee headed by an officer of the subordinate office namely Central Water Commission.
Odisha CM has also indicated that he is open to attending a meeting at the Prime Minister’s level as a last chance to settle the river water dispute through dialogue.[Ref: The Hindu]
Warning against spurious schemes being floated in the name of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
The Ministry of Women & Child Development has warned unauthorised sites/organisations/NGOs/individuals that are distributing forms in the name of cash incentive under Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme.
- The government has made it clear that the scheme has no provision for individual CASH TRANSFER COMPONENT by Government of India.
About the BBBP scheme:
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) Scheme was launched on 22ndJanuary, 2015 at Panipat in Haryana.
- It is a tri-ministerial effort of Ministries of Women and Child Development, Health & Family Welfare and Human Resource Development.
- The scheme aims at improving the trend of declining child sex ratio (CSR) in the country—which, according to Census 2011 data, has plummeted from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and 918 in 2011—and promoting gender equality.
- The scheme focuses on challenging mindsets and deep rooted patriarchy in the societal system, strict enforcement of PC&PNDT Act, advancing education of the girl child: focus is on issues of women empowerment on a life cycle continuum.
- In the first phase, 100 districts with low CSR were selected for BBBP Scheme implementation for creating awareness and advocacy about the issue.
Panel headed by Vinod Rai to oversee BCCI’s affairs
The Supreme Court has appointed former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai as head of four-member Committee of Administrators to run Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
- The committee will function as the interim bosses of the BCCI and run the day-to-day administration of cricket body till the Lodha Committee reforms are fully implemented and elections held.
- The court has asked the BCCI CEO to submit a report to the committee detailing the level of compliance achieved by the BCCI and its members in adopting the Lodha recommendations upheld by the court.
- The BCCI CEO has to submit the report to the new committee within a week. After this, the committee has been given four weeks to scrutinise the compliance achieved and report to the Supreme Court.
- In its earlier order of January 2, 2017, the Supreme Court had removed Anurag Thakur as BCCI president, Ajay Shirke as BCCI secretary and disqualified all the board and its state association office bearers after they had failed to implement new norms set by the Justice Lodha Committee.
- In its order SC had indicated that it would soon appoint a panel of administrators to carry out the reforms in the BCCI to make its affairs transparent.
Centre to hold talks to end Manipur crisis
The Centre has decided to hold tripartite talks with the United Naga Council (UNC) and the Manipur government to end the ongoing blockade of two national highways in Manipur, which has disrupted normal life and led to a shortage of essential commodities in the State.
What’s the issue?
- The economic blockade is imposed by the UNC, an umbrella body of Naga groups under the patronage of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). It is against the Manipur government’s decision to carve out seven new districts.
- The blockade has continued for over four months now. The UNC sees creation of new districts as an attempt to truncate the concept of a greater Nagalim.
- The Centre has been accused of turning a blind eye to the activities of the UNC, with which the Union government had signed a framework agreement in 2015 to resolve the decades-old Naga issue.
- According to the government, the decision for formation of seven new districts was taken for administrative convenience and to enable the state government take up development works effectively even in the remote and underdeveloped parts of the state.
FIPB clears 6 FDI proposals worth Rs 1,187 crore
The Inter-ministerial body Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approved six investment proposals envisaging foreign investments of Rs 1,186.5 crore.
- Decision in this regard was taken by FIPB meeting headed by Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das.
- India allows FDI in most sectors through the automatic route, but in certain segments considered sensitive for the economy and security, then those proposals first have to be cleared by FIPB.
- The Union Government has taken a slew of measures in the recent past to boost foreign direct investment into the country.
- The FDI in the country has grown to $40 billion in the financial year 2015-16 as against $30.94 billion in the previous FY 2014-15.
Foreign Investment Promotion Board:
The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) is an inter-ministerial body, responsible for processing of FDI proposals and making recommendations for Government approval.
- It is housed in the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.
Functions of the FIPB:
- Although India allows FDI in most sectors through the automatic route, but in certain segments considered sensitive for the economy and security, the proposals have to be first cleared by FIPB.
- It provides a single window clearance for proposals on FDI in India.
- The decisions taken by FIPB are based on the extant FDI Policy, Press Notes and other related notified guidelines formulated by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Composition of FIPB:
FIPB comprises of the following Secretaries to the Government of India:
- Secretary to Government, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance – Chairperson
- Secretary to Government, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Ministry of Commerce & Industry
- Secretary to Government, Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce & Industry
- Secretary to Government, Economic Relations, Ministry of External Affairs
- Secretary to Government, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.
Cabinet approves the exclusion of States from the investments of National Small Savings Fund
The Union Cabinet has excluded States and Union Territories except Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Delhi (UT) and Madhya Pradesh from National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) investments with effect from 1 April 2016.
- The 14th Finance Commission (FFC) had recommended that the State Governments should be excluded from the investment operations of the NSSF.
- The main reason given was that NSSF loans come at an extra cost to the State Governments compared to the market rates which are considerably lower. Following this, Union Cabinet in February 2015 held that this recommendation will be examined in due course in consultation with various stake holders.
- Later, all states except Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh expressed their desire to be excluded from NSSF investments.
About National Small Savings Fund (NSSF):
- NSSF was set up on 1 April, 1999 with an objective to account all the monetary transactions under small savings schemes of the Union Government under one umbrella.
- It was set up in the Public Account of India.
- The net accretions under the small savings schemes are invested in the special securities of various States/ Union Territories (with legislature)/Central Governments.
- States not only can borrow from this account but have the obligation to borrow.
- The minimum obligation of States to borrow from the NSSF has been brought down from 100% to 80% of net collections from 2007.
Draft steel policy to enable Rs.10 lakh crore investments
The Ministry of steel has released the new draft National Steel Policy of 2017.
- The Ministry has invited comments on the policy from all the stakeholders and the public.
About the policy:
- The proposed National Steel Policy 2017 (NSP 2017) is an effort to steer the industry to achieve its future potential and strategy to deal with various impediments like high input cost, availability of raw materials, dependency on imports, financial stress etc.
Highlights of the policy:
- Under the policy, the Steel Ministry has proposed setting up greenfield steel plants along India’s coastline to tap cheap imported raw materials such as coking coal and export the output in a more cost-effective manner.
- The policy, which envisages to more than double India’s domestic steel production capacity to 300 million tonnes by 2030-31, anticipates a requirement of ₹10 lakh crore of fresh investments to meet that goal and expects at least 11 lakh new jobs being created in the process.
- The draft policy also aims at increasing per Capita Steel Consumption to 160 kg by 2030-31 and encouraging industry to be a world leader on energy and raw material efficient steel production by 2030-31, in a safe and sustainable manner.
- The draft policy lays out two alternatives of its vision — “to create a globally competitive steel industry that promotes inter-sectoral growth” or “to create a self-sufficient steel industry that is technologically advanced, globally competitive and promotes inclusive growth.”
- It also focuses on impediments like high input costs, availability of raw materials, import dependency and financial stress plaguing the sector.
- To cut down reliance on expensive imports of coking coal, the policy has mooted gas-based steel plants and technologies such as electric furnaces to bring down the use of coking coal in blast furnaces.
Indian steel industry:
- In 2015, India was the only large economy in the world where steel demand continued to demonstrate positive growth at 5.3%, as against negative growth in China, and Japan.
- India’s growing urban infrastructure and manufacturing sectors indicate that demand is likely to remain robust in the years ahead.
- Notwithstanding the current challenges, Indian steel industry still has significant potential for growth, underscored by the fact that the per capita steel consumption in the country at 61 kg is much lower than the global average of 208 kg.
N.K. Singh panel submits report on FRBM Act
A panel, headed by N.K. Singh, has submitted its report on revising the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act to the finance minister.
- The committee was constituted by the government last year to set a new fiscal consolidation roadmap.
- The five-member committee was constituted in May 2016 following Mr. Jaitley’s announcement, in Budget 2016-17, of the creation of a panel to review the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act.
- The government had mandated the committee to explore whether it should adopt a flexible fiscal deficit target instead of a fixed number every year.
Key recommendations of the committee:
- The committee has recommended major changes in the 13-year-old Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act and suggested ways to ensure responsible and higher growth, sources said.
- The committee says, “a new FRBM Act is critical to create better conditions for co-ordination between monetary and fiscal policy and also usher in a low interest rate regime.”
- There is also a suggestion that fiscal expansion or contraction should be aligned with credit contraction or expansion respectively in the economy.
- The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003 (FRBMA) is an Act of the Parliament of India to institutionalize financial discipline, reduce India’s fiscal deficit, improve macroeconomic management and the overall management of the public funds by moving towards a balanced budget.
Need for review of FRBM act:
Since its introduction, the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act has been facing a rocky road in terms of implementation.
Paused four times since its enactment in August 2003, including for a reset of the fiscal deficit target in 2008-09 following the global financial crisis, the FRBM Act has become a subject of animated debate.[Ref: The Hindu]
Rubber Soil Information System (RubSIS) for Rubber Growers
The government recently launched Rubber Soil Information System (RubSIS).
What is RubSIS?
- It is an online system for recommending application of appropriate mix of fertilizers to the specific plantations of rubber growers depending upon their soil nature.
- RubSIS is developed by Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) under the Rubber Board in collaboration with three agencies viz
- Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala,
- National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, ICAR and
- National Remote Sensing Center, ISRO
Significance of RubSIS:
- RubSIS brings soil data to the fingerprints of rubber growers and recommends the optimum mix and quantities of chemical fertilizers that his holding requires.
- It is a cost effective tool for sustainable &scientific management of rubber growing soils.
- Apart from preventing indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and soil degradation, adoption of RubSIS will lead to reduction in the cost of production of rubber, increase in productivity and reduction in environmental pollution.
RBI stops investments to ‘non-cooperative countries’
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has prohibited Indian entities from making direct investments in any entity located in Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories (NCCT) as identified by Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
- The prohibition is for aligning instructions under FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) with the objectives of the FATF.
- At present, there is no restriction on an Indian entity with regard to the countries where it can undertake Overseas Direct Investment (ODI).
What are non-cooperative countries?
- The NCCT initiatives principal objective is to reduce the vulnerability of the financial system to money laundering by ensuring that all financial centres adopt and implement measures for the detection, prevention and punishment of money laundering according to internationally recognised standards.
About Financial Action Task Force (FATF):
- FATF is an inter‐governmental policy making body established in 1989 with ministerial mandate to establish international standards for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.
- Its objectives are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to integrity of international financial system.
- Initially it was only dealing with developing policies to combat money laundering. But in 2001 its purpose was expanded to act against terrorism financing.
- Currently, it comprises two regional organisations and 35 member jurisdictions, including India, UK, US, China and the European Commission.
Centre says GAAR effective April 1, industry demurs
The Union Finance Ministry has announced that the General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) will be effective from the 1 April, 2017.
- In this regard Income Tax (IT) department has issued a slew of clarifications on implementation of GAAR, seeking to address concerns of foreign investors over implementation of the anti-evasion measure.
Clarifications made by the government:
- GAAR seeks to give the IT department powers to scrutinize transactions structured in such a way as to deliberately avoid paying tax in India.
- It will not be invoked in cases where investments are routed through tax treaties that have a sufficient limitation of benefit (LOB) clause to address tax avoidance.
- It should be noted that LOB clause in tax treaties generally requires investors to meet certain spending and employment criteria to avail the benefits of the treaty.
- All transactions or arrangements approved by courts and quasi-judicial authorities like the authority for advance ruling and that specifically address the issue of tax avoidance will not be subject to the GAAR test.
- GAAR will not be applicable on compulsorily convertible instruments, bonus issuances or split/consolidation of holdings in respect of investments made prior to 1 April 2017 in the hands of the same investor.
- In order to prevent misuse of GAAR provisions by the IT department, adequate safeguards also have been put in place based on which GAAR will be invoked.
- The proposal to apply GAAR first will be vetted by an officer at the level of the principal commissioner or commissioner of income tax and at the second stage by an approving panel headed by a high court judge.
- GAAR will not apply on foreign portfolio investor if its jurisdiction is based on non-tax commercial considerations and the main purpose is not to obtain tax benefits.
General anti-avoidance rule (GAAR) is an anti-tax avoidance Rule of India.
- It is framed by the Department of Revenue under the Ministry of Finance.
- Originally proposed in the Direct taxes code 2009, are targeted at arrangement or transactions made specifically to avoid taxes.
- It empowers officials to deny the tax benefits on transactions or arrangements which do not have any commercial substance or consideration other than achieving tax benefit.
- It contains a provision allowing the government to retroactively tax overseas deals involving local assets. It could also be used by the government to target participatory notes (P-Notes).
- It was considered controversial because it had provisions to seek taxes from past overseas deals involving local assets retrospectively.
Indian Railways to rent out hill trains to private players
The Indian Railways is planning to start leasing out its standalone passenger corridors and branch lines to private companies for operations and maintenance, marking the beginning of corporate participation in the running of the world’s fourth largest railroad network.
Why this is necessary?
- The Indian Railways, with a 1.54-million workforce and about 6,800 stations, runs about 7,000 trains every day to ferry passengers, an activity that is generally unprofitable.
- In the financial year ending March 31, 2017, the losses from the passenger segment of the railroad operations are set to be about Rs 33,000 crore, about 10% higher than the losses for the previous financial year.
Significance of the move:
This move helps minimise operating losses for the government. With this, the Indian Railways may also promote tourism and attract private companies, particularly those from the hospitality and infrastructure industries.
- Narrow and metre-gauge tracks linking the colonial era hill stations are set to be the first of the 108,000-kilometer rail network to be run privately.
- Largely unprofitable routes linking Kalka and Shimla, Siliguri and Darjeeling, the NilgiriBSE 0.00 % mountains with the plains, Neral and Matheran, and the Kangra Valley railways would be among the first the government will likely choose to bid out to private operators.
- Winning bidders will be offered long-term concession agreements, making the leases more viable. The ministry has worked on both upfront-payment and revenue sharing models for leasing standalone passenger corridors and branch lines.
- Companies will also have the flexibility to own and maintain the stations. The companies will also be free to set fares on these lines after the approval from the upcoming Rail Development Authority of India.
India Post gets payments bank licence to start services
IndiaPost under Department of Posts (Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) received final payments bank licence from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- With this, India Post became the third entity after Bharti Airtel and Paytm to receive final payments bank licence to roll-out of banking operations commercially under the permit.
- As per the initial road map, each post office in the country will offer the post bank services.
- The department of post has an existing network of around 1,55,000 post offices currently.
- IndiaPost plans to open 650 new branches for the payment bank. These branches will be co-located with the existing post offices.
- In 2015, RBI had granted ‘in-principle’ approval to 11 entities, including Department of Posts, to set up payments banks and proposed to give such licences ‘on tap’ basis in future.
About Payments banks:
Payments banks are a new model of banks conceptualised by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to meet government’s financial inclusion target.
- It will be set up as a differentiated bank and will confine its activities to acceptance of demand deposits, remittance services, Internet banking and other specified services but cannot undertake lending services.
- Payments banks can accept deposits up to Rs. 1 lakh per account from individuals and small businesses.
- Payments banks will mainly deal in remittance services.
- They will not lend to customers and will have to deploy their funds in government papers and bank deposits.
- The promoter’s minimum initial contribution to equity capital will have to be at least 40% for the first five years.
- They can issue ATM/debit cards but not credit cards.
- They can also issue other prepaid payment instruments.
- They can distribute non-risk sharing simple financial products like mutual funds and insurance products.
- Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are not be allowed to open accounts in payment banks.
- Apart from amounts maintained as Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) with the Reserve Bank on its outside demand and time liabilities, it will be required to invest minimum 75% of its “demand deposit balances” in Statutory Liquidity Ratio(SLR) eligible Government securities/treasury bills with maturity up to one year and hold maximum 25% in current and time/fixed deposits with other scheduled commercial banks for operational purposes and liquidity management.
- This new model of banking allows mobile firms, supermarket chains and others to cater to banking requirements of individuals and small businesses.
Difference between Payment Banks and Small Finance Banks:
- The major difference between payment banks and small finance banks is their area of operation. Payment bank can only open savings account and current accounts but cannot lend money while small finance bank’s main aim is to lend money to farmers and small businesses.
- Usually, major earnings of the bank come from interest difference between deposits and lending but payment banks would run on different niche and their earnings would be from the charges levied on transactions. But in case of small finance banks, their source of earnings would be same as of any other scheduled commercial banks.
- Payment banks aims to provide banking through high-technology and low-cost operations while small finance banks may or may not be tech-savvy.
Environment & Ecology
Cabinet approves ratification of the Second Commitment Period of Kyoto Protocol
The Union Cabinet has given its approval to ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol on containing the emission of Green House Gases (GHGs).
Significance of this decision:
- This decision is considered as token measure to put pressure on developed countries to deliver on climate change commitments.
- It further underlines India’s leadership in the comity of countries committed to global cause of environmental protection and climate justice.
- India’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol will encourage other developing countries also to undertake this exercise.
- It will attract some investments in implementation of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects under this commitment period in accordance with Sustainable Development priorities.
About Kyoto Protocol:
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 to fight global warming by reducing GHGs emission and came into effect in 2005.
- The 1st commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol was from 2008-2012.
- The 2nd commitment period for the period 2013- 2020 was adopted in 2012 by the Doha Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol.
- So far, 75 countries have ratified the Second Commitment Period.
- The protocol is based on principle of Equity and Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR).
- It places obligations on developed nations to undertake mitigation targets to reduce emissions by 5.2% of 1990 levels during 2008-2012 period) and provide financial resources and technology to developing nations.
- Developing countries like India have no mandatory mitigation obligations or targets under the Kyoto Protocol.
Bombay Natural History Society launches climate change programme in Central Himalayas
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has launched climate change programme to conduct study to assess the status, distribution and conservation of Pheasants and Finches in Central Himalayas.
About the programme:
- It is long-term monitoring project funded by Oracle and facilitated by CAF-India.
- It will focus on their conservation in the context of climate change with the help of community participation.
- It will help in making an inventory of pheasants and finches, documentation of local specific conservation issues, and designing local as well as species specific conservation action plan with the community participation.
- The conservation action plan of these sites will be the first step towards the protection of the ecosystem which benefits both biodiversity as well as the people in the system.
- It also aims to assess the socio-economic activities of local communities and involve them in conservation efforts and sensitize the local forest department staff.
- The Himalayas hold a rich natural heritage with diverse flora and fauna enhancing the beauty of the region.
- Indian subcontinent is home to nearly 62 species of finches and 50 species of pheasants, with several species listed in ‘Globally Threatened’ category by IUCN.
- Both these groups are spread across the Himalayas. Shrinking habitats combined with several biotic factors, along with poaching and trapping pressures in many areas have pushed several of them to near extinction.
- Besides, climate change is influencing vertical and horizontal distribution of these groups. Those species adapting with it will be able survive, but those species sensitive to temperature rise will suffer.
- Bombay Natural History Society (BHNS) is one of the largest non-governmental organisations in India engaged in conservation and biodiversity research.
- It was founded on 15 September 1883 and headquartered at Hornbill House, Mumbai.
- It supports many research efforts through grants and publishes the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.
- Department of Science and Technology has designated as a ‘Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’.
Bilateral & International Relations
India participates in JITSIC meeting on ‘Panama Papers’
India participated in the Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) meeting held recently in Paris where 30 Revenue Authorities shared their findings on investigations arising from the Panama Papers.
- The meeting included sharing of best practices and information between participating member countries based on legal instruments under the tax treaties and OECD and Council of Europe Multilateral Convention.
- The sharing of this information within a group of this size is unique and sets the basis for greater cooperation amongst tax administrations.
Since the last JITSIC meeting of this group, significant achievements have been made including the development of uniform approaches to requesting information between treaty partners, clearer understanding of the evasion typologies adapted by intermediaries, and new techniques for collating intelligence.
What are the Panama Papers?
- The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
- The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
- The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners
The Joint International Task force on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) brings together 36 of the world’s national tax administrations that have committed to more effective and efficient ways to deal with tax avoidance.
- It offers a platform to enable its members to actively collaborate within the legal framework of effective bilateral and multilateral conventions and tax information exchange agreements – sharing their experience, resources and expertise to tackle the issues they face in common.
- Open to all members of the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration (FTA), the JITSIC operates through a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) in each country.
- It is supported by the FTA Secretariat based at the OECD.
- JITSIC was originally established in 2004 as the Joint International Tax Shelter Information Centre to combat cross-border tax avoidance.
- Building on its initial achievements, the JITSIC was re-established in 2014 with many new members from across the FTA.
Global partnership launched to prevent epidemics with new vaccines
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was officially launched at World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos after it received $460-million to develop vaccines against 3 emerging highly-contagious and fatal diseases.
- CEPI will use this fund to contain outbreaks these 3 diseases before they become global health emergencies.
These three diseases are:
- Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-coronavirus,
- Lassa fever, and
- Nipah virus.
About Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI):
- CEPI is a public-private alliance to finance and coordinate the development of new vaccines to prevent and contain infectious disease epidemics.
- It plans to develop early phases of vaccines without knowing the details for the form in which the deadly infection will appear but to cut down the time to tailor the eventual vaccine to be effective to epidemic.
- CEPI’s plan includes preparations for possible outbreaks of Marburg fever, Lassa fever, MERS, SARS, Nipah virus, Rift Valley fever, chikungunya, and others.
- It is being funded by the Wellcome Trust, t Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, World Economic Forum (WEF), Governments of Norway, Japan, India (Department of Biotechnology) and Germany.
- CEPI aims to develop at least two vaccines for each virus through early human studies so that they are ready for a real-world test as soon as one of these viruses surfaces again.
- CEPI also intends to fund vaccine platforms—technologies like harmless viral vectors or messenger RNA that can serve as backbones for a variety of vaccines.
Curbs on outsourcing may hit U.S. economy: Nasscom
India’s IT industry has warned about the adverse impact that curbs on outsourcing will have on the U.S. economy, which lacks high-skilled workers.
- Currently, Indian IT industry provide services to American companies, which help them to be competitive in the global market.
- More than 60% of the Indian IT industry’s $108-billion export revenue comes from the U.S.
How curbs on outsourcing will impact the US economy?
- The critical thing for IT industry is high-skilled workers and the fact of the matter is that the US lacks high-skilled workers.
- According to December 2015 projections by the U.S. Labour Department, employment of computer and information technology occupations will grow 12% from 2014 to 2024 (faster than the average for all other occupations).
- However, due to shortfalls in college graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), entering the STEM workforce, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the U.S. by 2018 — with more than half of these vacancies in computer and IT-related skills.
India rejects attempts by EU, Canada for global investment agreement
India, along with Brazil, Argentina and some other nations, has rejected an informal attempt by the European Union (EU) and Canada to work towards a global investment agreement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)-level that would incorporate a contentious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.
What is Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism?
- Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) or investment court system (ICS) is a system through which individual companies can sue countries for alleged discriminatory practices.
Why is it being opposed?
- The ISDS mechanism has become contentious as it permits companies to drag governments to international arbitration without exhausting the local remedies and claim huge amounts as compensation citing losses they suffered due to reasons, including policy changes.
What do the opposing countries demand?
- Countries opposing this move say, “Only after all local options have been exhausted for settling disputes between a corporate and a government, do we want to permit issues to be taken up in international arbitration tribunals.”
- Also, they want such provisions to be a part of bilateral agreements only and not be allowed in a multilateral agreement.
What is India’s position?
- India has rejected such mechanism.
- It clearly held that only after all local options have been exhausted for settling disputes between a corporate and a government, then the issues can be taken up in international arbitration tribunals.
- It also held that such provisions could be a part of bilateral agreements but they can’t be allowed in a multilateral agreement.
US President Donald Trump moves to pull U.S. out of TPP
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to formally pull US out of the negotiating process of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a mega trade deal of 12 Pacific Rim countries.
- TPP was one of the major international trade initiatives of his predecessor Barack Obama aimed to set trade rules for the 21st century and bind US allies against growing Chinese economic clout.
- During the Presidential election campaign, Trump had vowed to withdraw the US from the TPP which he argued was harmful to American workers and manufacturing.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries concerning a variety of matters of economic policy, which was reached in October 2015 after 7 years of negotiations.
- The Trans-Pacific Partnership is headed by the US and includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
- The agreement covers 40% of the world’s economy.
- It would set new terms for trade and business investment among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.
- It would phase out thousands of import tariffs as well as other barriers to international trade.
- It also would establish uniform rules on corporations’ intellectual property, open the Internet even in communist Vietnam and crack down on wildlife trafficking and environmental abuses.
- The United States government has considered the TPP as the companion agreement to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a broadly similar agreement between the United States and the European Union.
TPP’s Impact on India:
- It might have led to market share losses for certain categories of India’s exports due to preference erosion.
- It could have indirectly impacted exports in several industrial sectors such as textiles, leather, clothing, plastics, cotton and yarn.
- Even India’s pharmaceutical sector might had suffered due to higher standards compared WTO norms, including on IPR and ever-greening of patents.
India, UAE sign strategic partnership pact among 14 agreements
India and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) inked 14 agreements in various areas to boost bilateral cooperation between both countries.
- These agreements were signed after delegation level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in New Delhi.
Agreements signed are:
- MoU in agriculture and Allied sectors
- Agreement on Oil Storage And Management
- MoU for cooperation in programme exchange
- MoU on cooperation in the field of Defence Industry
- Agreement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
- MoU on Institutional Cooperation on Maritime Transport
- MoU on Mutual Recognition of Certificates of Competency
- MoU on cooperation in prevention and combating of human trafficking
- MoU on Bilateral Cooperation in the Road Transport and Highways Sector
- MoU on trade remedial measures to promote cooperation in areas of mutual interest
- MoU for the cooperation in the field of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and innovation
- MoU on mutual exemption of entry visa requirements to the holders of Diplomatic, special and Official Passports.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the UAE to partner India in stabilising South Asia and fight security challenges. He welcomed greater investment from the country for India’s infrastructure sector. However, a major agreement on engaging the massive investment fund of the UAE for India’s infrastructure sector remained unattained.
UAE also has the largest sovereign wealth fund that India is looking for investments. There is an agreement that they will invest nearly $75 billion in India over the next couple of years.[Ref: The Hindu]
India, France sign pact on maritime information sharing in Indian Ocean Region
India and France have signed White Shipping agreement to enable information sharing on maritime traffic and maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
- It will be implemented over the next few months.
Significance of the agreement:
- The agreement will enable navies of India and France to coordinate their roles in stabilising Indo-Pacific region.
- It will enhance Indo-French maritime security cooperation in the region.
- India and France firmed up cooperation on sharing of radars in the Indian Ocean during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris in 2015.
- India is setting up a grid of coastal surveillance radars in the IOR that will enable it to monitor increasing Chinese presence in the area, France has shown interest in sharing data from surveillance systems on its Indian Ocean territories in the region that includes Mayotte, besides military bases in UAE and Djibouti.
- Both countries in the last couple of years are coordinating their naval movements and surveillance in the IOR. France retains interests and assets with territories like Reunion Islands in the IOR.
India-UAE strategic oil reserves deal
India has signed a deal with United Arab Emirates (UAE), fifth biggest oil supplier as part of its quest for energy security and strategic reserve system.
- The deal allows UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) to fill half (about 6 million barrels of oil) of an underground crude oil storage facility at Mangaluru, Karnataka.
- India has already filled the other half of the Mangaluru storage in Karnataka state with six million barrels of Iranian oil.
- It also has filled a Vizag storage site in southern Andhra Pradesh with 7.55 million barrels of Iraqi oil and has invited bids from suppliers to fill an 18.3 million-barrel facility at Padur in Karnataka.
- This is the second agreement signed between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited and ADNOC in the area of storage and management of oil at strategic facilities in India.
- Strategic petroleum reserves have become indispensable to safeguard the economy and to help maintain national security in the event of an energy crisis. These crude oil reserves (or stockpiles) can be held by the government of a particular country, as well as by private industry.
- As one of the fastest growing economies and world’s third-biggest oil consumer, India is building emergency storage in underground caverns to hold 36.87 million barrels of crude, or about 10 days of its average daily oil demand.
- This move aims to hedge against energy security risks as it imports most of its oil needs. In 2014, India already had started talks to lease part of its strategic storage to ADNOC.
- Under those discussions, India was to have first rights to the stored crude in case of an emergency, while ADNOC will be able to move cargoes to meet any shift in demand.
Seven new countries join BEPS agreement
Seven new countries have signed Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement for Country-by-Country Reporting (CbC MCAA).
- They are Lithuania, Gabon, Hungary, Indonesia, Malta, Mauritius and Russia.
- With this, the total number of signatories has increased to 57 including India (signed in May 2015).
What is CbC MCAA?
- CbC MCAA is a tax co-operation agreement to enable automatic sharing of country-by-country information.
- The CbC MCAA aims to boost transparency by multinational enterprises (MNEs) by allowing signatories to bilaterally and automatically exchange country-by-country reports.
- This exchange of information is facilitated as part of Action 13 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) Action Plan adopted by the OECD and G20 countries in 2013.
- The agreement will help to ensure that tax administrations obtain better understanding of how MNEs structure their operations and also ensure that the confidentiality and appropriate use of such information is safeguarded.
Science & Technology
A sunspot with centre twice the size of Earth
Scientists have spotted a new view of the dark, contorted centre of a sunspot that is nearly twice the diameter of the Earth.
- It was spotted using Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) antennas located in Atacama Desert of northern Chile.
Significance of the discovery:
- The discovery is an important expansion of range of observations that can be used to probe the physics of our nearest star.
- Using ALMA antennas capabilities, astronomers imaged the millimetre-wavelength light emitted by the Sun’s chromosphere, the region that lies just above the photosphere that forms the visible surface of the Sun.
- They produced the images to study solar activity at longer wavelengths of light that are typically available to solar observatories on Earth.
- Using two of ALMA’s receiver bands at wavelengths of 1.25 millimetres and three millimetres, scientists were able to observe an enormous sunspot.
- The images captured through it help to reveal differences in temperature between parts of the Sun’s chromosphere and also understanding the heating and dynamics of the chromosphere.
What are the Sunspots?
- They are darker, cooler areas on the surface of the sun in a region called the photosphere (having temperature 5,800 degrees Kelvin).
- Sunspots can be very large, up to 50,000 kilometers in diameter and have temperatures of about 3,800 degrees K.
- They are dark in comparison with the brighter and hotter regions of the photosphere surrounding them.
About ALMA telescope:
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the world’s most powerful observatory for studying the universe at the long-wavelength millimeter and submillimeter range of light.
- It’s designed to spot some of the most distant, ancient galaxies ever seen, and to probe the areas around young stars for planets in the process of forming.
- It is an international partnership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan, together with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.
Browned toast and potatoes are potential cancer risk: Scientists
According to scientists from Food Standards Agency (FSA) of United Kingdom, chips, potatoes and bread cooked to brown can cause cancer.
- According to FSA when the starchy foods are roasted, grilled or fried for too long at high temperatures (above 120 degree Celsius), it produces carcinogenic chemical Acrylamide.
What is Acrylamide?
- Acrylamide is a chemical used primarily in making polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers that are used in industrial processes such as a production of dyes, plastics, paper.
- It is also used in treatment of drinking water and waste water.
- Acrylamide is present in many types of food such biscuits, cakes, bread, coffee, toast, crisps, chips, and other starchy food.
- It is a natural byproduct of the cooking process. It is produced when Asparagine, a building block of proteins found in many vegetables is heated to high temperatures in the presence of certain sugars.
- Cooking methods such as baking, frying, grilling, roasting mainly results in production of acrylamide. The darker the colour gets of the food, more acrylamide is present in it.
Potential health hazards:
- Some researches in animals have shown that the chemical Acrylamide is toxic to DNA and causes cancer.
- Although there is no conclusive evidence but same can be applicable in the case of people.
- It can also have adverse effects on the reproductive and nervous systems.
World’s first stable semi-synthetic organism created
Researchers from US have created world’s first stable semi-synthetic organism, a single-celled bacterium with an expanded genetic code.
- The semi-synthetic organism is the modified E.coli bacteria created by introducing DNA molecules that are not found in nature in a common bacterium.
- This research gives scientists an opportunity to ‘create organisms with wholly unnatural attributes and traits that are not found elsewhere in nature.
- In future, it can help in creation of microbes capable of manufacturing entirely new proteins, which can provide leads to new medicines and nanotechnology breakthroughs.
How the new bacterium was created?
- Life’s natural genetic code only contains four natural bases- adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), thymine (T). These bases pair forms two base pairs in the DNA ladder.
- The newly created bacterium has two human-created X and Y bases that grow and divide, much like the four natural bases. This single-celled organism can hold on to the synthetic base pair as it divides.
- The human-created X and Y base pair was dropped over time in the bacterium that limited the ways the it can use the additional information possessed in their DNA.
- For this, researchers had optimised a tool called a nucleotide transporter, which brings the materials necessary for the unnatural base pair to be copied across the cell membrane.
- They discovered that modification to the transporter, made it much easier for the organism to grow and divide while holding on to X and Y.
- Researchers used gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to design the synthetic organism to see a genetic sequence without X and Y as a foreign invader.
India begins outdoor caged trials of genetically modified mosquitoes
India launched a project aimed at suppressing the local Aedes aegypti mosquito population that transmit dengue, chikungunya and Zika by introducing genetically modified mosquitoes.
Dengue and Chikungunya:
- Dengue is estimated to infect 5.8 million people in India every year, costing the country over $1B annually.
- Outbreaks of chikungunya, a viral disease for which no treatment is available, have been increasingly reported in India.
- Both diseases are transmitted by local populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
- Oxitec’s technology uses genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry a dominant lethal gene. When male GM mosquitoes mate with wild female mosquitoes the lethal gene is passed on to offspring. The lethal gene in the offspring kills the larvae before they reach adulthood.
- Since male mosquitoes do not bite humans, the release of GM males will not increase the risk of dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
- First released in Brazil, Oxitec’s mosquitoes have demonstrated to reduce the local populations by more than 90%, whereas insecticides only affect 30%.
- In addition, this strategy only targets a specific mosquito strain and does not produce any toxic compounds that could affect their predators, making Oxitec’s the most eco-friendly solution so far to control the spread of infectious diseases.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) itself backed the engineered mosquitoes during last year’s Zika outbreak.
- Oxitec released 10,000 of them in one of the Cayman Islands, drastically reducing the local mosquito population.
GSLV’s cryogenic upper stage tested successfully
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully tested indigenously developed cryogenic engine for the upper stage ‘GSLV Mk III’ rocket.
- The cryogenic upper stage, designated as C25, was tested for 50 seconds at ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu demonstrating all the stage operations. It was the first test in a series of two tests.
What is Cryogenics?
- Cryogenics is the study of substances at very low temperature – at minus 150 degrees Celsius and less, in which gases like oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen turn liquid.
- Cryogenic engines are called so because they use liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as fuel. The extremely cold temperatures make these liquids tricky to operate.
- The GSLV-III or Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, is a launch vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organization.
- GSLV Mk III is conceived and designed to make ISRO fully self reliant in launching heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class, which weigh 4500 to 5000 kg.
- It would also enhance the capability of the country to be a competitive player in the multimillion dollar commercial launch market. The vehicle envisages multi-mission launch capability for GTO, LEO, Polar and intermediate circular orbits.
- GSLV-Mk III is designed to be a three stage vehicle, with 42.4 m tall with a lift off weight of 630 tonnes.
- First stage comprises two identical S200 Large Solid Booster (LSB) with 200 tonne solid propellant, that are strapped on to the second stage, the L110 re-startable liquid stage. The third stage is the C25 LOX/LH2 cryo stage.
- The large payload fairing measures 5 m in diameter and can accommodate a payload volume of 100 cu m.
India to launch standby navigation satellite
India is planning to launch one of its back up navigation satellites this year as a replacement to IRNSS-1A satellite, whose three atomic clocks have failed.
- Each of seven satellites has three clocks. The clocks are important to provide precise data.
What is an atomic clock?
- It is an extremely accurate type of clock regulated by the vibrations of an atomic or molecular system.
- Its principle of operation is not based on nuclear physics, but rather on atomic physics.
- It uses the microwave signal that electrons in atoms emit when they change energy levels.
- The accuracy of an atomic clock depends on two factors, temperature of the sample atoms and frequency and intrinsic width of the electronic transition (higher frequencies and narrow lines increase the precision).
- NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation), also known as the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), is similar to the GPS (Global Positioning System) of US, Glonass of Russia and Galileo of Europe as well as China’s Beidou.
- Starting in July 2013, ISRO had launched all the seven navigation satellites of the IRNSS by April 2016. Each satellite has a life span of 10 years.
- IRNSS is said to be the “Indian GPS” that will give accurate real-time positioning and timing services over India and the region around it extending to 1,500km. Thus, NAVIC’s reach is regional.
- Applications of IRNSS include terrestrial, aerial and marine Navigation, disaster management, vehicle tracking and fleet management, integration with mobile phones, precise timing, mapping and geodetic data capture, terrestrial navigation aid for hikers and travellers, and visual and voice navigation for drivers.
New artificial skin created that ‘feels’ temperature changes
Scientists have developed an artificial skin that can detect temperature changes, an advance that may have varied robotic and biomedical applications.
- The component responsible for the temperature sensitivity was pectin, a long-chain molecule present in plant cell walls.
- The material uses a mechanism that is akin to the pit organ in vipers.
- The researchers were studying synthetic wood when they discovered that a molecule, pectin, played a role in generating an electrical impulse when exposed to changes in temperature.
- The material could be grafted onto prosthetic limbs to restore temperature sensing in amputees.
- It could also be applied to first-aid bandages to alert health professionals of a temperature increase – a sign of infection – in wounds.
- The material could also be used as a smart dress wound. Since infections raise temperatures in the body, the material can be used as a signal to medical practitioners that something is affecting the wound.
What is Pectin?
Pectin is a naturally occurring substance (a polyscaccaride) found in berries, apples and other fruit. When heated together with sugar, it causes a thickening that is characteristic of jams and jellies.
- Pectin is widely used in the food industry as a jellifying agent; it is what you use to make jam. So it is easy to obtain and also very cheap.
- Pectin molecules are long chains weakly bonded together and they contain calcium ions. When temperatures increase, the chain breaks and the ions are free to move. Either the higher number of free ions or their newfound freedom allow for the material to have a reduced electrical resistance.
- The material can detect changes as subtle as 0.01°C (0.018°F) over the temperature range – almost 10 times more sensitive than previously developed electronic skin and 100 times more responsive.
‘Vampire’ star caught in the act
India’s first dedicated space observatory, ASTROSAT has captured the rare phenomenon of a small six-billion-year-old vampire star preying on a bigger celestial body.
About the vampire star phenomenon:
- The vampire star phenomenon is observed when smaller star sucks material (mass and energy) out of the bigger companion star, causing its eventual death.
- It is also called a blue straggler as small star becomes bigger, hotter and bluer, giving it the appearance of being young, while the ageing companion burns out and collapses to a stellar remnant.
- Astrosat is India’s first dedicated multi-wavelength space observatory launched in September 2015.
- It is one of the major scientific missions of ISRO after the highly acclaimed Chandrayaan-I and Mangalyaan.
- It is placed at low earth equatorial orbit at altitude of 650 km.
- It has ability to observe celestial bodies like cosmic X-Ray sources and distant stars in different wavelengths simultaneously.
- It can observe the universe through ultraviolet, optical, low and high energy X-ray components of the electromagnetic spectrum.
- It has mission life of 5 years. Its successful launch made India member of select elite group of nations comprising US, Japan, Russia and Europe having its own space observatory.
Key Facts for Prelims
India Innovation Index coming soon
- The World Economic Forum, NITI Aayog, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Cornell University are working together to develop an India Innovation Index that will provide impetus to Indian states to drive the innovative spirit.
- This index will encourage states to compete with each other and, in turn, lead to better policies for inclusive growth.
- The index will measure and rank the innovation performance of all Indian states with the aim of moving India towards an innovation-driven economy.
- The index will spur competition and ensure progress towards innovation at the local level in India.
- The first ranking is expected to be released at the India Economic Summit in New Delhi in October 2017.
Dantan Gramin Mela
- The 28th edition of Dantan Gramin Mela was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee in West Midnapore district in West Bengal.
- The fair will display the rural handicraft skills of the people of the region.
- It will also display different goods ranging from textile to terracotta.
- The US military has successfully launched Geo-3 satellite mounted with Atlas V rocket into space to monitor possible missile attacks from space.
- The military satellite capitalizes on infrared technology for defence purposes that include missile counter-defense, missile warning, intelligence gathering, and geospatial situational awareness to support troops.
- Earlier the US Air Force had launched Geo-1 and Geo-2 satellites into space in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Dharamsala declared second capital of Himachal Pradesh
- Himachal Pradesh Government has declared Dharamsala as the second capital of the hill state with a population of about 70 lakh.
- Henceforth winter session of state legislature will be held in Dharamshala.
- Earlier the city had held 12 Winter Sessions of the state Assembly.
- Himachal Pradesh is third state in India to have two capitals after Maharashtra (Mumbai, Nagpur) and Jammu and Kashmir (Srinagar, Jammu).
INS Vikramaditya is first Indian naval ship with ATM on board
- A one of its kind, ATM machine has been installed onboard INS Vikramaditya, India’s largest warship, by SBI.
- This is the first time that a warship will have an operational ATM even on the high seas.
- The facilities offered by the State Bank of India to the ship include cash withdrawals, generation of mini-statements, access to bank balance details and change of PIN numbers.
- The move is a significant step towards cementing the partnership between the Navy and the bank further, underlines the mutually supportive relations the two organisations share.
China commissions 31st stealth warship
- China has commissioned its 31st Type—056 class corvette stealth warship named CNS Ezhou.
- It features good manoeuvrability, a high-level of automation and stealth capability.
- It is capable of hitting aircraft, ships and submarines.
- It will be based in China’s East Sea Fleet in a naval base in Fujian province. It will perform coastal patrol, fishery escort, anti-submarine and anti-ship operations.
- At present, Russia has the world’s largest corvette group that consists of about 80 vessels, but most of them were built in the 1980s and 1990s. Russian fleet cannot compete with the China’s Type—056 in terms of technology and equipment. Thus, China’s fleet is now claimed to be the biggest force of modern corvettes of all navies.
Guinness world record by singing the national anthem
- Over 3.5 lakh people have set a new world record by singing the national anthem at an event at Kagvad in Rajkot, Gujarat.
- The occasion was the installation of the idol of goddess Khodiyar at the newly-built Khodal Dham temple in the town.
2017 Combined Commanders Conference
- The 2017 Combined Commanders Conference (CCC) was held at Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.
- It focused on the surgical strikes across the Line of Control, the prevailing situation on the LoC, terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and the emerging security situation.
- It was the first CCC for the three military chiefs since taking over as head of their services in 2016.
National Bravery Awards
- Recently, National Bravery Awards for the year 2016 were presented by the Prime Minister.
- The main objective of the awards is to give due recognition to children who perform acts of bravery and inspire other children to follow their example.
- The awards were first introduced in 1957.
- Since then, the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) has been giving the National Awards for Bravery every year to children from various parts of the country.
- The national bravery awards to children are given in 5 different categories:
- Bharat Award,
- Geeta Chopra Award,
- Sanjay Chopra Award,
- Bapu Gaidhani Awards and
- General Awards.
- Eligible awardees will be granted financial assistance until they complete their schooling. Some State Governments also provide financial assistance to them.
- In addition, ICCW provides financial assistance under its Indira Gandhi Scholarship Scheme to those undertaking professional courses such as engineering and medicine.
- For the others, this assistance is provided till they complete their graduation.
- The Government of India has reserved some seats for the awardees in medical and engineering colleges and polytechnics.
Child vulnerability map
- The Ministry of Women and Child Development has recently released a district-wise map depicting problems facing children across the country as a part of the National Plan of Action for Children.
- Prepared by NGO Childline India Foundation, the ‘Child Vulnerability Map’ covers 409 of total 678 districts in the country.
- It highlights vulnerabilities like child marriage, child trafficking, missing and runway children, child labour, children affected by civil unrest, child sexual abuse, dropouts and low literacy rate, malnutrition, foeticide, HIV and AIDS affected children.
- Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have been highlighted on the map as child trafficking-prone states, while are Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as worst-affected by malnutrition.
- Northeastern states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram, have fared poorly in tackling child malnutrition.
Nepal recognises employment in India as foreign
- Nepal has formally recognised migration of its countrymen to India for employment purpose as “foreign employment” and bring them under the insurance coverage for the first time.
- After the government’s recognition, Nepali migrant workers in India will be entitled to receive insurance coverage up to $12,812 for critical illness and life insurance.
Republic Day 2017
- India is celebrating its 68th Republic Day this year. Republic day in India is celebrated every year on 26th of January to honour the Constitution of India as it came into force on the same day in the year 1950 replacing the Government of India Act, 1935 as the governing document.
- The chief guest on Republic Day of India 2017 will be Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
- For the first time, a contingent of the National Security Guard (NSG), popularly known as the Black Cat Commandoes, also took part in the parade.
- President Pranab Mukherjee awarded Ashok Chakra, country’s highest peacetime military decoration to Havaldar Hangpan Dada posthumously for selfless service to nation.
Jeevan Raksha Padak Awards – 2016
- The President of India has approved the conferment of Jeevan Raksha Padak Series of Awards for the year 2016.
- Jeevan Raksha Padak series of awards are given to a person for meritorious act of humane nature in saving the life of a person.
- The award is given in three categories, namely,
- Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak,
- Uttam Jeevan Raksha Padak and
- Jeevan Raksha Padak
- Persons of either sex in all walks of life are eligible for these awards.
- The award can also be conferred posthumously.
- The decoration of the award (medal, certificate signed by the Home Minister and demand draft for lump sum monetary allowance) is presented to the awardee in due course by the respective State Government to which the awardee belongs.
Padma Awards 2017
- Government has announced the list for the Padma Awards 2017 on the eve of Republic Day.
- The list comprises 7 Padma Vibhushan, 7 Padma Bhushan and 75 Padma Shri awardees.
- The Padma awards are conferred by the President at a function in Rashtrapati Bhawan in March/April every year.
- Padma Awards – one of the highest civilian Awards of the country, are conferred in three categories, namely, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.
- The Awards are given in various disciplines/ fields of activities, viz.- art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service, etc.
- ‘Padma Vibhushan’ is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service.
- ‘Padma Bhushan’ is awarded for distinguished service of high order.
- ‘Padma Shri’ is awarded for distinguished service in any field.
National Voter’s Day
- The Election Commission of India celebrated 7th National Voters’ Day (NVD) across the country on 25th January.
- Theme for this year: Empowering Young and Future Voters.
- On this day in 1950, the Election Commission of India was founded.
- The ECI observes National Voters Day to create awareness on voting and voter rights.
- Japan has successfully launched its first military communications satellite Kirameki-2 satellite.
- The Kirameki-2 satellite has been designed to upgrade Japan’s existing communication network in the face of China’s increasingly assertive maritime activity and North Korea’s missile threat.
- The new satellites will allow military units to communicate on a high-speed and high-capacity network.
- These satellites aimed at stepping up Japan’s emergency response capability in case of natural disaster, China’s maritime activity from southern Japanese waters to South China Sea, as well as missile threats from North Korea.
- They will be also used by Japanese troops operating overseas as part of international peacekeeping operations, including those off the Somali coast and in South Sudan.
- As part of Independence Day celebrations, Ministry of Tourism is organising ‘Bharat Parv’, a 7-day cultural event at the Red Fort, Delhi.
- The prime objective of organizing the event is to generate a patriotic mood, promote the rich cultural diversity of the country, ensure wider participation of the general public and to popularise the idea of “Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat”.
- The Ministry of Tourism has been designated as the nodal Ministry for the event.
- The Indian Navy’s Annual Theatre Readiness Operational Exercise (TROPEX) 2017 is being conducted off the Western Seaboard.
- The month-long exercise will see participation of ships and aircraft of both the Western and Eastern Naval Command and also assets from the Indian Air Force, Indian Army and the Indian Coast Guard.
- TROPEX 17 exercise is aimed at testing combat readiness of the combined fleets of the Indian Navy, and the assets of the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Coast Guard.
- It seeks to strengthen inter-operability and joint operations in a complex environment.
North East Investors’ Summit
- The first ever “Investors Summit” exclusively for North Eastern Region (NER) has begun in Shillong.
- The Ministry of Textiles has taken the initiative to organize the first ever “Investors Summit” exclusively for NER, in association with Ministry of DONER and the Industry Associations FICCI and CII.
- Focussed on manufacturing in textiles and allied sectors, the theme of the Summit is “Exploring Opportunities in North East Region”.
- The summit aims to showcase the NER as a global destination for investment, and to explore the possibility of bringing in convergence of efforts of various central Ministries and North Eastern States to attract investment in NER.
- The Summit will be attended by all North Eastern States, Export Promotion Councils, industries from North Eastern Region and leading investors across the country.
Film Condition Assessment Project under NFHM
- The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (Ministry of I&B) has launched a film condition assessment project.
- Under the project, almost 1.32 lakh film reels at National Film Archive of India (NFAI) will be assessed and preserved for future use, as per global standards.
- The project marks the beginning of National Film Heritage Mission—an initiative by the government of India for the preservation, conservation, digitization and restoration of rich cinematic heritage of the country.
- NFAI is the nodal agency for the implementation of this project.
2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report
- Recently, the 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report was published.
- It was published by the Think Tank and Civil Societies Program at the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania (TTCSP).
- From India, the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) has been ranked among the top 100 think tanks globally.
- The CCS is ranked 80 which is one lower than last year’s rank.
- Nine other Indian institutes figured among the top 175 for the year 2016.
- Chatham House, U.K. was declared the top think tank of the world while Brookings Institution of U.S. retained the position as the top think tank worldwide in U.S. and Non-U.S. category.
- In terms of numbers, the U.S. has 1,835 think tanks, the highest globally, followed by China with 435, and the United Kingdom has 288. India stands in 4th position with 280 think tanks.
Meghalaya’s first ever Apparel and Garment Centre
- Meghalaya’s first ever Apparel and Garment Centre was recently inaugurated at Ampati.
- The Centre will create employment opportunities for both men and women of the region, thereby empowering them economically.
- The Centre has been set up at a cost of approximately Rs. 14.26 crore, under the North East Region Textiles Promotion Scheme (NERTPS) of the Ministry of Textiles.
Task Force to prepare Action Plan for Next three Olympic Games
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the constitution of eight members Task Force committee for preparing action plan for next three Olympic Games 2020, 2024 and 2028.
- It has been given three months’ time to submit its report regarding a comprehensive action plan including short, medium and long-term measures for effective participation of Indian sports-persons in the Olympic games.